Short Circuit (Plan B)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Feb. 2, 2001
Short Circuit (Plan B)A lot can happen in a decade. A bong-sucking college freshman circa 1990 could be a personal-injury lawyer on the back of some phone book by now. In the case of Austin's recently departed pop-punk ensemble Stretford, however, 2001 might as well be 1990 for all the lucre they never received. Then again, tangible rewards are hardly the prime motivating factor for the middling local act that sticks around for 10 years. Even if vocalist/guitarist Carl Normal's vision of late-Seventies Brit-punk filtered through the eyes of modern male romanticism could never be perfectly realized, the thoughtfulness and vibrancy of his campaign was never in doubt. For that, Stretford carved a well-deserved spot in the hearts of the faithful who stood at the foot of the stage at virtually every show singing along with hits-of-the-mind like "Xerox Love," "Digital Clock," and "I Used to Know." Short Circuit is best heard as a shout-out to longtime fans of the band, those closing-time stragglers who wouldn't leave without one last curio before the tent show packed up and moved on. Half of the album, Stretford's third, and presumably final, is comprised of original tunes from throughout the band's career. "New Clothes" and "Swan Song" are both recent recordings featuring motley horn charts and plenty of na-nas and hey-heys for the sing-along crowd. The latter is Stretford's exit bow, written by Normal and drummer Ken Dannelley, and its lyric "If I leave, I will miss it, but if I go, I'll regret it" aptly describes the eventual state of stagnated returns endemic in most artistic endeavors. The original three-piece version of Stretford (Normal, Dannelley, and guitarist Tony Nelson) is well-represented on the scrappy 1991 track "I'm Only Going to Work Until I'm Famous," while the well-duh minimalism of 1994's "(I'm a) Fool" pays stutter-stepped respect to the Ramones. The second half of Short Circuit is a fun assortment of cover tunes, including Devo's "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize," the Records' "Starry Eyes," and the Monkees' "Star Collector" (Stretford's second recording of a Fabricated Four song), and the whole thing ends with a power-tooled hardcore spurt-take on Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up." While none of the covers aspire to revealing some hidden dimension of the originals, who wouldn't want to walk into a bar on Friday night and hear such tunes cranked out in enthusiastic, rapid-fire succession? All in all, Short Circuit is an elegiac, quick-flash melange of equal parts sentimentality and irreverence that calls the troops home with the almost-sober dignity they deserve. Fare thee well, lads and lasses of Stretford, fare thee well.